Feliz Año Nuevo, dear reader! Atlético Madrid kicked off 2020 with a strange yet deserved win in the capital over Levante. The 2-1 victory elevated Atlético to third in LaLiga, a place which seemed far away for the team not too long ago. The recent win streak — now up to four in all competitions — has been keyed by improved efficiency in front of goal, which in turn has been inspired by Ángel Correa’s surging form.
- Surely, one of Diego Simeone’s New Year’s resolutions was to start games “on time,” to make early pressure count. Atlético had scored a goal inside the first 20 minutes just once through the season’s first 24 games — in a Champions League fixture against Lokomotiv Moscow.
Saturday saw that number double from one to two, thanks to Correa and Kieran Trippier.
Earlier — just 40 seconds into the match — Correa and João Félix forced Aitor Fernández into a double save. Here, the Argentine produced a really slick finish from a cross which clearly fooled the Levante defense, and Aitor could not come up with a highlight-reel stop (he’s had to make several this season).
Observe the ball from Thomas, which released Trippier into space. Exquisite.
- Levante fought back though — through top scorer Roger Martí.
That’s a tough one to concede. Roger escaped his marker — Trippier, who claimed he had been shoved. Jan Oblak likely would have parried the ball away if Álvaro Morata (and his elbow) had not been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- But Felipe Monteiro, as he has all season, provided a headed response.
Either Felipe or José Giménez could have headed home from Renán Lodi’s cross, and the Brazilian got there first for his first league goal. The 30-year-old is the 10th Atlético player to score in LaLiga this season, the latest feather in the cap that has been a tremendous debut season with the club.
Lodi’s assist made a little history, too:
2 - Two different @atletienglish defenders (Kieran Trippier y Renan Lodi) have assisted in the same LaLiga game for the first time since August 2012 against Athletic Club (Diego Godín and Filipe Luís). Wings. pic.twitter.com/wHxWPIUO47— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 4, 2020
- The second half was reserved and anticlimactic as Simeone focused on maintaining his side’s defensive structure. Yet, San Oblak was needed in stoppage time.
Nobody picked up Enis Bardhi’s run into the box, but Oblak saw it all the way and he hooked the ball over the bar with his left hand. There might be only two or three keepers on the continent who can make this save — Oblak is one.
- Another great Thomas ball culminated in this chance for Félix, yet his drought goes on — the Portuguese has not scored a league goal in over four months.
- Remember how I wrote about Correa’s surging form? This is the best he’s ever played.
- Atlético’s past 11 home games versus Levante: 11 wins, 26 goals for, seven against.
- The title race is back on! Kinda. Sorta. Perhaps not.
But Atlético are now on 35 points, five behind both Barcelona and Real Madrid after the former failed to beat Espanyol on Saturday night. Half a season remains. Should Atleti add another striker to the squad, that gap could be further reduced. It’s interesting, at least.
- Germán Valera Karabinaite made the bench and made his debut as an 87th minute substitute. The 17-year-old is the second-youngest player to appear in LaLiga this season and is regarded as Atlético’s brightest young talent. Valera has scored four times in 13 appearances for the B team this year — and when he moved to Madrid from Villarreal last summer, president Fernando Roig cut off all contact with Atleti’s hierarchy.
“I am not going to sit and eat at the same table (as them),” he said.
Same, Enis. Same.